For most people, a call to customer service is about as exciting as a trip to the dentist. No one enjoys being put on hold, waiting to repeat the same information to a second or third agent, getting dropped and starting again, all just to access your own information or account. It’s an experience that can feel alienating and frustrating – not the way most companies want their customers to feel.
Technology is changing every other aspect of the customer experience, from product discovery and browsing to payments and social sharing, and it’s increasingly being applied to customer service.
Rethinking customer service in ways that fold in emerging technologies is something that, according to a 2018 McKinsey & Company study, executives are already exploring to give their businesses an edge. In an omni-channel contact centre, AI can augment and enhance the experience of both the customer and representative, ensuring person-to machine interaction is simple and painless, and person-to-person interaction is employed where most appropriate, and more effectively.
We’re already seeing a significant step in this direction with voice authentication and natural language processing. Security of customer data and accounts is of paramount concern for every business, and voice biometrics can be used to identify callers and—often in tandem with other forms of authentication—perform authentication securely. Rather than remembering passwords and punching them into an IVR, a customer might simply say a few words and be recognized by the system. Natural language processing can be also used to monitor a customer’s speech on a call in real-time, assess their emotional state, and flag them to a senior agent or supervisor if attention is required before the customer hangs up.
Digital Experiences Growing
While these examples represent improvements over traditional voice calls, AI will have a more profound effect in shaping a truly digital customer experience. Customers today don’t just call, but also engage with their preferred brands through a broad and growing spectrum of channels, including social media, smartphone applications, websites, e-mail, video and chat.
For years contact centres have had automated systems serving up relevant customer data to support agents fielding calls, but building a complete picture of your customer and engaging in a context-aware way across such diverse channels is considerably more challenging. That’s where AI and machine learning come in. AI can draw from a wealth of data on a particular customer, and the organization’s collective experience to enable and use that to route customers through a self-service or automated customer engagement whenever possible. It can also determine when to involve human agents where needed, and empower those agents with the right information, materials, analysis, tools, and recommended solutions to meet customer needs.
Improving the Banking Journey — for Customers and Agents
For example, a customer engaging with his bank might begin at the website or mobile app, perhaps looking for a form. An AI-driven chatbot might offer to help answer questions or serve up the right resources, potentially meeting their needs with no human interaction.
AI can be used to monitor this interaction and escalate to a human agent where necessary, be it because the transaction is taking too long, the customer’s language indicates a level of frustration, or more happily, an opportunity to sell is detected. When that happens, the agent will pick up where the chatbot left off, with an understanding of the context of the engagement and whatever is needed to close it successfully.
And after the transaction, AI can also be used to eliminate much of the repetitive, administrative work the contact centre agent must do, improving employee experience as well.
Using AI to Differentiate Your Brand
This all adds up to a more complete, nuanced understanding of the customer experience—the kind of insight that companies can use to more intelligently engage customers at every stage of their journey. With features like 360-degree journey analytics, Tata Communications and Cisco are partnering to provide contact centres with AI-enabled end-to-end support and a global reach.
Organizations from a wide range of industries are seeing the huge potential in using AI to enable this kind of digital customer experience, and improved employee satisfaction, but most are just getting started. A study published by Tata Communications earlier this year revealed that, while AI is on the mind of 93 percent of business leaders, only 18% have taken the plunge and begun actively implementing the technology. That leaves a lot of ground to define exactly how AI will be applied—and the value it will bring—to an organization.
The stakes are high, as a compelling digital experience tells your customer that you put them first, and that you’re thoughtful and intelligent about how you do so. That can change the perception of the brand, and move that all-important metric net promoter score, more than any amount of traditional advertising. In short, AI offers companies a huge opportunity to differentiate, and those that embrace it successfully will be tomorrow’s market leaders.
Given the common but limited view that AI’s chief function will be to compete with or replace humans in the workplace, embracing the technology may seem like a bold shift for industry leaders to take. But it is critical to recognize AI’s potential to enhance human communication and thereby reshape customer experience and employee satisfaction for the better. Start figuring out how to do so in your business.